high level grouPS



It is widely recognised today that deep shifts in its economic and societal context and new needs require radical innovation of the European Union’s policies. These cannot be brought about if not also its operational system is overhauled to better combine democratic legitimacy and technocratic efficacy.


An independent, tripartite high level group (HLG) is an innovative method, between governments, business and academia, to inject innovative policy ideas into the EU system.


The first one was designed by Prof.Dr. Stefan Schepers, Henley Business School, Chairman of EPPA, set up following an initiative of Presidency the Competitiveness Council in 2011, with the purpose to ‘think outside-the-box’ on how to improve innovation policy making. The method proved useful and was applied also in other policy areas.

Member of the International Network for Government Science Advice.


An independent, tripartite high level group is a method for policy initiation or innovative reform, avoiding path dependency, designed to:

  • Align different perspectives and interests about a particular policy sector or issue.

  • Improve mutual trust and consensus between leading stakeholders.

  • Inject ‘outside-the-box’, creative policy ideas into the European Union system.

  • Develop operational recommendations outside its legalistic and procedural constraints.

  • Facilitate political agreement in the formal decision making procedure.


A HLG group is a temporary, public-private, think tank.


Each brainstorming group is independent and determines its own agenda. It is thus fundamentally different from the formal high level groups sometimes set up by the Commission to advice within a strict mandate.


A HLG group always has a tripartite composition: a limited number of participants from Member governments, EU Commission and/or Council, corporations, academia and research. The chair and the secretariat ensure a balance between them.


All participants operate in their own name, without mandate, to stimulate trust, creativity and serendipity of discussions. These take place under a neutral chair and under so-called ‘Chatham House’ rules (no one is quoted publicly). A HLG has its own secretariat and research team and is supported by the participating corporations (studies & research), governments (meetings) and by EPPA (secretariat).


The recommendations of a HLG are intended for the European Council, one or more Councils, and the Commission. All recommendations are agreed by broad consensus.


The first such HLG was designed for the Polish Council Presidency in 2011, to work on innovation policy management. Its success and influence let its method to be used now in other policy domains.

The HLG method was inspired by the so-called ‘Castle Gymnich’ meetings, initiated in the 1974 by German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, in order to have an informal, private discussion among Foreign Ministers. Because of its usefulness it was later extended to other Councils and evolved into the informal Council meeting. However, over time these became too large to allow for brainstorming and creative thinking in a trusted context.

Hence the search for a new, more efficient method, this time also involving key stakeholders of the private sector, in line with new thinking about policy making in volatile, uncertain and complex conditions and the need for better alignment of views and interests.

Extracts from a speech by former EU President Herman Van Rompuy, October 2013

   What is at stake in the European Union is the future of our socio-economic model and our role in the world. For this, we need competitiveness. Competitiveness that is today under pressure.

The only way to recover it, is innovation.
 As the Nobel Prize for economy Edmund PHELPS rightly stated recently,

"it is an 'innovation crisis' that is at the origin of our economic decline".


Innovation is the ability of a system not only to produce new ideas but also to bring them to the markets,

and translate them into economic growth and prosperity.


An integrated approach on innovation is what would make the difference, in the same way as what took place during the early phases of the Single Market. An explicit agreement between all relevant actors, public and private, to make "fostering innovation and its effects on competitiveness and employment" an overarching and imperative goal for European policies.


Let me, in particular, congratulate the Polish Presidency, which launched in December 2011 the initiative

to establish a High Level Group on "Innovation Policy


The initiative was in itself innovative: "to think outside the box, to develop new approaches

and to make original contributions to the European innovation thinking".


To trigger a deep exchange of views between those working on governance

and those leading the way in industry, so that both sides could learn from each other.


This methodology manages to present a consensus of the main actors in inspiring terms,

two qualities that seldom go together.